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The Scrolls as a Start, Not an End

November 1st, 2011

We see the signs of warfare as well, including iron arrowheads and sling stones used in the Assyrian attack on the town of Lachish in the eighth century B.C., a siege mentioned in the Bible and shown in reliefs at the Assyrian king’s palace excavated in Iraq.

And we see, too, from the eighth century, an array of “household goddesses” a few inches tall, evidence of folk religions thriving alongside the Israelite monotheistic cult.

When the surface of this history is simply looked at, everything seems at best ordinary, at worst disastrous. This is not just a region of conquest; it is a region of unrelenting conquest. As a national history, it is a sequence of catastrophes.

The Israelites’ own foundational texts chronicle them as other nations have recorded triumphs. Is there any national literature that so relentlessly exposes the flaws and pettiness of its rulers or so fervently condemns the failings of its people as the accounts in the books of Kings or the speeches of the prophets? There is little glory to be found in the nation’s own canon.

Perhaps there was something in this unrelenting self-scrutiny that laid the foundation for the evolving religious culture, some understanding offering coherence amid chaos, conviction amid cataclysm. Perhaps it was a belief that history’s disasters and human failings were inextricably connected. Or that human action, not miracle or magic, is what led to these consequences. But at the very least we begin to see that the Dead Sea Scrolls are not just astounding because of what they led to, but because of what led to them.

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